Giving you the knowledge and skills to make a difference in marine conservation.

This programme is studied on campus.

With the increasing variety and scale of human activities that affect marine environments it is vital that we have scientists who are able to take a multidisciplinary approach to understanding, monitoring and regulating impacts on marine biodiversity.

Run in collaboration with key conservation and management bodies, this MSc programme will provide you with an understanding of the issues that are central to marine conservation, and will develop practical skills and analytical ability that you can apply to real-world situations. You will learn from renowned researchers and leading practitioners, and will gain deep insight into a wide range of marine ecosystems in Scotland and internationally.

The programme will suit individuals looking to work in conservation bodies, environmental consultancies, government agencies, or progress to PhD research, as well as professionals who are keen to refocus their knowledge and skills on conservation of marine biodiversity.

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Key Programme Information

At a Glance

Learning Mode
On Campus Learning
Degree Qualification
12 months
Study Mode
Full Time
Start Month

What You'll Study

The taught part of our programme requires students to take nine compulsory courses over two semesters to develop a sound understanding of key issues and acquire essential skills. A special feature of the programme is a new course in marine conservation management, which runs through both semesters, and aims to build confidence, skills and experience to engage effectively with stakeholders in a professional role.

Semester 1

Semester 1

Compulsory Courses

Marine Ecology and Ecosystem Management (ZO5008) - 7.5 Credit Points

This course provides an introduction to core concepts in marine biology, ecology and ecosystem management. It provides an understanding of ecological drivers, both biological and physical, in the marine environment and an introduction to fisheries biology and management. The course offers a unique curriculum allowing you to gain both theoretical and practical experience with hands on labs, group presentation and debating skills. This interdisciplinary course is taught by a range of researchers both in academia and in the front line of implementation by people from Marine Scotland Science, Scottish Natural Heritage and Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

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Fish Biology and Conservation (ZO5011) - 7.5 Credit Points

This course will survey fundamental aspects of the biology of different components of the marine fish community through lectures and practicals. At the individual-level, the life cycles and life history strategies of fish will be summarised. Key aspects of population-level biology, including fish migration and population structure, will be covered. Case studies for a range of key Scottish species will also be presented. The relevance of fisheries biology to fisheries management will be highlighted throughout the course

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Experimental Design and Analyses (BI5009) - 15 Credit Points

This course is uniquely tailored for biologists and will provide students with the required background and skills relevant to modern ecology and biology. The unique format of example-led lectures and real-world based practicals will provide you with a foundation to become confident and proficient in dealing with real data. Throughout this course, we will introduce you to using the programming language R (an industry standard) to implement modern statistical modelling techniques. You will use the flexible linear and generalised modelling framework to analyse biological data.

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Population Ecology (ZO5304) - 15 Credit Points

The course is structured as a series of weekly themes, which each reflect areas of current research in animal ecology. The content of the course is research-based, drawing on case studies from research-active staff within the School of Biological Sciences. The topics cover a range of ecological and spatial scales: from single species’ population dynamics to community dynamics, and from local to macro-scale processes, with a focus on the application of current ecological knowledge and theory.

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Introduction to GIS (EV5402) - 7.5 Credit Points

Introduction to GIS will provide you with the opportunities to become familiar with ArcGIS software and understand the application of GIS technologies to address ecological research questions.

  • Provide increasingly important GIS skills on your CV
  • Practical-based course so you learn how to use GIS as well as understanding the theory
  • Range of real research examples used in terrestrial and marine ecology

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Marine Conservation Management (ZO5009) - 15 Credit Points

Effective engagement with conservation of marine biodiversity requires an open mind, creativity, patience and an appreciation of shared learning. This course is structured to help you develop those essential skills while building your understanding of current issues in marine conservation and how conservation professionals engage with these issues.

View detailed information about this course

Optional Courses

In addition to the compulsory courses, you will also choose from a diverse range of elective courses according to your individual interests and learning objectives. For example, you can choose to enhance your skills in data analysis, modelling and Geographic Information Systems, and extend your knowledge to molecular ecology, sustainable resource management and marine spatial planning.

Field Trip (Cromarty) (ZO5005)
Aquaculture (ZO5303) - 7.5 Credit Points

Aquaculture now supplies approximately 50% of all marine food consumed by humans. Farming of fish and shellfish is the fastest growing food production industry in the world and is predicted to continue grow over the next few decades, within Scotland salmon is the second largest food export. The demand from the growing human population for high quality food and fish paralleled by the over exploitation of wild fish stocks is driving the expansion of aquaculture. There are many issues with fish farming including disease control, feeding, controlling life histories, genetics and the environmental load.

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Statistics for Complex Study Designs (BI5010) - 7.5 Credit Points

This highly regarded course will take your understanding of statistics to the next level and provide you with the skills and confidence to analyse your complex biological data. Through a combination of lectures, computer based practicals and group work you will gain an understanding of how to deal with pervasive issues in the analysis of real world biological data such as heterogeneity of variance and spatial and temporal non-independence. Hands on computer tutorials will allow you to apply statistical models using modern statistical software (R) to real data, collected by researchers to answer real biological questions.

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Molecular Ecological Techniques (EK5405) - 7.5 Credit Points

The course will develop the student’s awareness of how molecular genetic techniques, including modern ‘omics technologies, can be used to inform our understanding of aspects of ecology, evolution, population biology and conservation science. The course will describe the underlying central dogma of molecular biology that explains how genetic diversity arises and can be harnessed as molecular markers. It will then review the contribution of molecular genetics in individual, population and species level studies.

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Introduction to Bayesian Inference (BI5401) - 7.5 Credit Points

This course is one of the few postgraduate courses in Europe to provide an introduction to Bayesian inference for biologists, which is increasingly used in advanced quantitative research. A combination of lectures and personal research will provide you with the core concepts necessary to understand recent research in your field and apply Bayesian approaches to your own research. Hands-on computer tutorials will also allow you to implement statistical models in a Bayesian context and provide you with the essential skills for taking it further.

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Semester 2

Semester 2

Compulsory Courses

Readings in Ecology, Conservation and Environment (BI5702) - 7.5 Credit Points

The aim of the course is to explore a topic within ecology, nature conservation or environmental sustainability through reading an influential book of own choice, synthesise the information and present this synthesis in an oral format to peers. Upon completion of the course students will be able to: i) explain in detail a topic of study in ecology, conservation or environmental sustainability to peers; ii) demonstrate synthetic knowledge by answering questions about the topic in an oral examination; and iii) discuss the relevance of their topic to broader issues in ecology, nature conservation and environmental sustainability.

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Research Project Planning (ZO5511) - 7.5 Credit Points

Throughout this course students will work independently on a research topic that will have been identified prior to the start of the course, in preparation for the research project carried out in course ZO5902. MSc students will produce a project plan and a literature review on the topic of their research project. PgDip students will produce an assessment on an appropriate topic that will have been identified through discussion with the course coordinator and count towards completion of their degree.

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Marine Conservation Management (ZO5009) - 15 Credit Points

Effective engagement with conservation of marine biodiversity requires an open mind, creativity, patience and an appreciation of shared learning. This course is structured to help you develop those essential skills while building your understanding of current issues in marine conservation and how conservation professionals engage with these issues.

View detailed information about this course

Optional Courses

In addition to the compulsory courses, you will also choose from a diverse range of elective courses according to your individual interests and learning objectives. For example, you can choose to enhance your skills in data analysis, modelling and Geographic Information Systems, and extend your knowledge to molecular ecology, sustainable resource management and marine spatial planning.

Marine Spatial Management (ZO5518) - 15 Credit Points

This course aims to enable students to appreciate the level of understanding of physical & biological oceanography, biodiversity, trophic interactions, species survival and reproduction issues that are required to implement spatially explicit, sustainable marine conservation. Students will be able to problem-solve in small groups and integrate diverse data sources. This course will also explore the driving forces underlying changes in the abundance and distribution of marine top predators and consider how potential changes in their populations can provide indicators of ecosystem change. The course will outline policy and management measures aimed at reducing human impacts upon ecosystems and top predators.

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Advanced Modelling for Ecology and Conservation (EK5704) - 7.5 Credit Points

This course teaches participants how to construct, implement and analyse their own models. The course introduces simulation techniques and programming in either R or C++. Additionally, it introduces a new software platform, RangeShifter, developed by researchers at Aberdeen. RangeShifter allows easier development of simulation studies in spatial ecology and conservation. Developers of the software are involved in teaching the course. A major component of the course is a mini project, during which you will work in small teams to develop your own models.

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Catchment Management (EK5511) - 15 Credit Points

Field visits to examine river systems and forested catchments provide context and opportunities to discuss a diverse set of environmental management problems with professionals working in the field.

Practical sessions provide structured activities focused on the identification of freshwater invertebrates and applications of GIS approaches for analysing data to support catchment management planning.

You apply theoretical and practical knowledge to a case study, demonstrating your capacity to evaluate site specific data and to interpret relevant legislation and regulation.

Working individually and with a group you will write and present a management plan for a location of your choosing.

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Ecology, Conservation and Society (EK5510) - 15 Credit Points

Six themes that reflect current theory and practice in the interface between ecology, conservation and society are explored through structured in-class activities challenging you to consider problems and evidence from different perspectives.

Case studies drawn from different disciplinary perspectives (e.g., anthropology, economics, human geography, philosophy) increase capacity for self-reflection and awareness of ethical and moral issues embedded in problems often framed as ecological.

Four short discussion essays are required; you will get detailed feedback for improving your writing skills.

Weekly student-led discussions allow you to develop your capacity for attentive exchange, informed argument and reasoning, and skills in facilitating discussion.

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Spatial Information Analysis (EV5511) - 7.5 Credit Points

Advanced Spatial Information Analysis will take your basic GIS skills and introduce advanced analysis techniques relevant to marine and terrestrial ecology.

· Course delivered by GIS professionals with number of relevant guest speakers from industry and NGO’s

· Mainly practical based course to give hands on experience

· Assessment based on research proposal can be linked to your research project

Provide you with the necessary GIS skills for careers in spatial analysis research and management of natural resources

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Sustainable Management of Marine Resources (ZO5515) - 15 Credit Points

Our PGT students have well developed critical thinking and writing skills. Team working is a skill that is highly valued by employers but on that students may have variable levels of experience of. The goal of the course is to further develop all of these skills prior to your entry into the job market. A Problem-based learning (PBL) approach is used for the course with the exact problem changing from year-to-year. Students work in groups to develop problem solving strategies and undertake the research identified as key. After the second week of the course there are no lectures, allowing students to prioritise group work and independent research.

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Semester 3

Semester 3

The final phase of the course involves carrying out a research project on a choice of marine conservation issues in the UK or overseas. Projects are often carried out in association with an external partner organisation.

Compulsory Courses

Research Project

This course requires planning, executing and writing-up an independent research project on a topic relevant to the remit of the programme. In consultation with their supervisor(s), students formulate a testable hypothesis, design an analytical approach suitable for testing those hypotheses, analyse the data and interpret the results. Results are presented orally in the final week of the programme.

Research Project / Dissertation (ZO5902) - 60 Credit Points

This course involves executing and writing-up an independent research project on a topic relevant to the remit of the programme. In consultation with their supervisor(s), students formulate one or more testable hypotheses, design an investigative approach suitable for testing those hypotheses, analyse the data, and interpret the results.

View detailed information about this course

Course Availability

We will endeavour to make all course options available; however, these may be subject to timetabling and other constraints. Please see our InfoHub pages for further information.

How You'll Study

Our programme incorporates a wide range of learning formats, including talks from invited experts; individual and group research; and field, laboratory and computer exercises, as well as traditional lectures and seminars. Many of the activities are designed to enhance communication and teamwork skills in a variety of settings.

The programme provides opportunities to engage with staff from Marine Scotland, SNH and JNCC, as well as professionals from NGOs and the private sector, representing environmental consulting firms, for example. The programme also incorporates non-curricular workshops on improving employability, such as CV writing.

Aberdeen is well situated for providing students with learning opportunities outside the classroom, including:

  • Outdoor field work at the University’s field stations and research sites
  • Tours of marine industry facilities, including Aberdeen Harbour, aquaculture sites and fish markets
  • Access to laboratories that monitor water quality, fish health and fisheries
  • Tours of Marine Scotland’s fleet of research vessels
  • Obtaining the certifications required for seagoing research

The research project is one of the main highlights of the programme, drawing together the knowledge and skills you have acquired to address a specific research question under the supervision of one or more experts in the field.

Projects can be field-based, laboratory-based or desk-based according to individual learning objectives, and can be undertaken in a variety of locations.

Learning Methods

  • Field Trips
  • Field Work
  • Group Projects
  • Individual Projects
  • Lab Work
  • Lectures
  • Research
  • Seminars
  • Tutorials
  • Workshops

Assessment Methods

The programme is assessed entirely by continuous assessment: there are no exams. The degree programme is assessed using a range of formats, including written reports, oral presentations, posters, online tests, open book assessments, literature reviews, blogs, marine conservation consultation response, participation in stakeholder workshop, project plan, and the research project report.

Why Study Marine Conservation?

There has been a rapid expansion of marine conservation initiatives in recent years, as governments have responded to public pressure and international drivers for better management of marine environments, yet there remain significant challenges to conserving marine biodiversity.

It is vital that there are highly trained marine conservation professionals to ensure that issues are properly understood and management proposals are well conceived. By studying Marine Conservation at the University of Aberdeen, you will gain a deep understanding of marine ecosystems and biodiversity, the effects of human activities on them, and how management measures can be developed, as well as a suite of cutting-edge skills to put theory into practice.

The University of Aberdeen is particularly well placed to deliver this programme because:

  • courses are delivered by internationally renowned academics, government scientists, teaching fellows and marine resource managers;
  • Aberdeen is the centre of a variety of marine activities and the programme offers interaction with a range of industries, including aquaculture, offshore oil and gas, and renewable energy;
  • you will develop skills such as statistical analysis, mathematical modelling and geographical information systems, making you more attractive to prospective employers;
  • you will gain essential research skills, including project planning, literature reviewing, data collection, analysis and interpretation, which will be beneficial to your future career;
  • you will have opportunities to study at world class research facilities, such as the Lighthouse Field Station in the Moray Firth, Oceanlab located near the Ythan Estuary, Bettyhill in Sutherland, and Eynhallow in the Orkney Isles;
  • you will have guest lectures from statutory nature conservation bodies, environmental NGOs, industry, and government;
  • you will have the opportunity to engage with staff from the Scottish Government’s marine department: Marine Scotland, go on tours of their fleet of research vessels, and collaborate with them for research projects;
  • Aberdeen is within easy reach of a range of marine environments, habitats and species – bottlenose dolphins are one of the more spectacular species regularly seen from the Aberdeen shoreline.

Entry Requirements


The information below is provided as a guide only and does not guarantee entry to the University of Aberdeen.

A minimum of a UK 2.2 honours degree (or non-UK equivalent) in a biological, environmental or physical science, geography, or other relevant subject. We also consider applicants with degrees in other disciplines who are clearly motivated by the programme and have some relevant work experience.

Please enter your country to view country-specific entry requirements.

English Language Requirements

All students entering the University must provide evidence that they can use English well enough to study effectively at the University of Aberdeen.

Details of our English language entry requirements can be found on our English language requirements webpages. This programme requires that you meet the 'Postgraduate Standard' level of English proficiency.

If you have not achieved the required scores, the University of Aberdeen offers pre-sessional English courses. Further details are available on our Language Centre website.

Nationals of some English-speaking countries or those who hold degrees from some English-speaking countries may be exempt from this requirement. Details of countries recognised as English-speaking can be found on our English language requirements webpages.

Document Requirements

You will be required to supply the following documentation with your application as proof you meet the entry requirements of this degree programme.

an up-to-date CV/Resumé
Degree Certificate
a degree certificate showing your qualifications
Degree Transcript
a full transcript showing all the subjects you studied and the marks you have achieved in your degree(s) (original & official English translation)
Personal Statement
a detailed personal statement explaining your motivation for this particular programme

Fees and Funding

You will be classified as one of the fee categories below.

Fee information
Fee category Cost
Home / EU / RUK Students £7,800
Tuition Fees for 2018/19 Academic Year
International Students £16,900
Tuition Fees for 2018/19 Academic Year

Additional Fees

  • In exceptional circumstances there may be additional fees associated with specialist courses, for example field trips. Any additional fees for a course can be found in our Catalogue of Courses.
  • For more information about tuition fees for this programme, including payment plans and our refund policy, please visit our InfoHub Tuition Fees page.

Funding Opportunities

The following options are available to support your studies. Please click the links for full details and eligibility criteria.

Our Funding Database

View all funding options in our Funding Database.


The programme will prepare you for employment with the range of organisations involved in marine conservation, such as statutory conservation bodies, other government departments, environmental consultancies, and non-governmental organisations, by aligning training in skills and expertise with employer’s needs, and helping you to establish a network of professional contacts.

The research skills you will acquire will provide a foundation for further training in academic research. The knowledge and skills developed in the programme will also be applicable in fields of environmental assessment or resource management beyond marine conservation.

The UK’s Natural Environment Research Council has published an analysis of the “most wanted” postgraduate and professional skills in the ecological and environmental sector. Our MSc programme has been specifically designed to provide you with many of these sought after skills so that you are highly competitive in whatever career you choose to follow.

In addition to acquiring discipline-specific skills, the activities within our programme are designed to provide you with ample opportunity to develop generic skills required by employers, including communication in a variety of modes, critical thinking, problem-solving, team work, numeracy, data management, modelling, time management, and interdisciplinarity.

Career Opportunities

  • Environmental Consultant
  • Marine Conservation Adviser
  • Marine Policy Officer
  • Postgraduate Researcher

Industry Links

The programme benefits from contributions from Marine Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

University of Aberdeen academics collaborate with colleagues in research institutions all over the world and have active involvement with local, national and international governmental and non-governmental organisations.

Research projects are often hosted by partner organisations and therefore focus on issues of real-world relevance.

Our Experts

This programme will be delivered by an experienced, multidisciplinary team of internationally renowned experts in marine ecology and conservation of marine biodiversity.

Other Experts
Professor Paul Thompson
Professor David Lusseau
Professor Stuart Piertney
Dr Beth Scott
Dr C Tara Marshall
Dr Paul Fernandes
Programme Coordinator
Dr Philip Smith

Information About Staff Changes

You will be taught by a range of experts including professors, lecturers, teaching fellows and postgraduate tutors. Staff changes will occur from time to time; please see our InfoHub pages for further information.

Our graduates work across the globe

Aberdeen graduates can be found working within major marine research and management organisations across the globe.


The University of Aberdeen has the range of facilities to support academic study and scientific research that you would expect in a large modern university, and in addition has particular facilities and features that are especially well suited to a programme in marine conservation. Three examples are listed below.

Image for Lighthouse Field Station
Lighthouse Field Station

Lighthouse Field Station

The Lighthouse Field Station is located in Cromarty, at the tip of the Black Isle. It has the dual aim of undertaking and supporting research and integrating this work into teaching and outreach activities.

Find out more
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Field Centres

Field Centres

We have three field centres in Scotland that support our marine, ecology and conservation work. You have the opportunity to spend time at each of these during residential field courses

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Oceanlab is a field research station located on the banks of the Ythan estuary overlooking Forvie National Nature Reserve. Staff and students based here are heavily involved in international projects and research expeditions.

Research Impact

Professor Paul Thompson and his team have been instrumental in mitigating the impacts of offshore installations on marine mammals in EU protected areas.

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Get in Touch

Contact Details

Student Recruitment & Admissions Service
University of Aberdeen
University Office
Regent Walk
AB24 3FX